Authors: Rodney Johnson, Tom Tropp
Sustainability once described initiatives to conserve the environment. That focus has now expanded to policies and practices that also create and preserve a business culture of wellbeing. The goal is staying financially sound and socially vital.
The value of an ethical work culture
Cultural sustainability has become a fundamental driver of business success that encompasses the achievement of both purpose and profitability. This requires organizations to make environmental, social and governance commitments. But there's a strong case for adding ethics.
Ethical principles differ from the compliance practices of governance. Beyond the legal and regulatory baseline, ethical systems are concerned with exercising common values and moral responsibility. Their importance as a cultural norm are on par with environmental and social commitments. And an ethical culture is linked to financial success.
As recognized by the Ethisphere® Institute, the 2019 "World’s Most Ethical Companies" outperformed the Large Cap Index by 14.4% during 2014–2019.1 Organizations that demonstrate strong ethics are more likely to mitigate the risks of misconduct and related legal fees, penalties and distractions from core business objectives. They often have processes for identifying, reporting and addressing issues, and clearly communicate expectations to employees.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on culture
There’s nothing like a pandemic to test the strength of a culture. Stress caused by the rapid shift to remote work, financial concerns related to economic and job uncertainty, and ongoing childcare challenges are some of the key factors that affect employees' mental and emotional wellbeing. However, when ethical principles and actions set the tone for respect, organizations are well-positioned to endure the unpredictable.
If there’s a bright spot in all of this, it may be that the shared experience of dealing with a global health crisis appears to be bringing people together. Findings from a recent survey show that nearly half (49%) of employers have observed increased civility and kindness within their organization—a development that supports business continuity and engagement as employees lean in to a new normal.2
Sustainability in an environment of community unrest
These trying times are uniting people, but also dividing them. Community unrest about social injustices have driven the topics of diversity, equality and inclusion to the forefront of cultural dialog once again. And this movement is empowering employees to candidly discuss workplace equality with colleagues, managers, HR and executive leadership.
For the many employees who continue to work at home, creating a healthy dividing line between personal and work priorities has become more difficult than ever. Employers that acknowledge and respond to these challenges are investing wisely in employee and customer relations, productivity, and attraction and retention.
While ensuring workforce and workplace equality helps contribute to a civil society, broader issues can lead to community unrest that impacts employee safety and business operations. Preparation is the best defense—along with a detailed response plan.
A comprehensive plan accounts for scenarios that run the gamut from mild to severe, and assigns a local leader to facilitate implementation when an event occurs. It's also important to adhere to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protocols for emergency preparedness, which cover civil disturbances, and to practice the plan with employees.